Climate change forces UK’s arable farmers to turn to soya

Amazon deforestation in Brazil for soya production

The UK’s arable farms’ production of cereal could be down by 35 percent this year because of climate change. It will mean that Britain will become an importer of about 4 million tonnes of grain whereas in the past the country was a net exporter of wheat.

Amazon deforestation in Brazil for soya production

View from above on a flight from Manaus to Santarem of a cross shaped deforested area. This is an illegally logged area spanning 1645 hectares which has been logged to plant soya. Photo: Greenpeace.

Normally the growing of soya is associated with the sunny climes of the subcontinent or the Americas. But climate change is changing that. Traditional crops are failing. Tom Bradshaw, vice-president of the NFU said that the combination of wet soil during the winter planting season and drought during spring and summer was the worst case scenario for farmers.

The story is relevant to the animal-human relationship. Soya beans is one of the world’s fastest growing crops. Most of the crop comes from the Americas and nearly half of it come from just two countries, Brazil and Argentina.

The growth in demand for soya beans, an excellent source of protein, is being driven by a rise in meat consumption among the burgeoning Chinese middle class. As China becomes richer the middle class expands and today China imports 105 million tonnes of soya to feed its livestock.

Traditionally, the UK imports huge quantities of soya. Globally 90 percent of soya is used to feed livestock such as cows, pigs and chickens.

In order to create bigger and bigger farms vast areas of forest and natural habitats are being destroyed in converting them to monocrop farmland. This releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which causes climate change. The loss of trees results in the loss of the absorption of carbon dioxide which means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Also, millions of animals live in these huge forests. Their home is being destroyed. Indigenous peoples living in the forests have been intimidated and attacked and sometimes killed. There’s been some pushback. The soya bean industry has apparently agreed not to buy soya from farmers that destroy rainforest. This has helped to reduce deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.

There is also the issue of pesticides. Since the 1990s pesticide use has increased in Argentina and Brazil by more than 170 percent. Pesticides kill plants and insects and pollute water supplies. They also cause health problems in farmworkers. Shouldn’t soya replace livestock not feed it?

Sources: Greenpeace and The Times.